Indian Curry OR Tamil Curry?

I have had a few emails asking for clarifications between Tamil Curry and Indian Curry.

Make no mistake, a country called India never existed previously, instead it was carved out by the British in the 18th or 19th century. So it was only after this point that various different lands were merged to create the combined country called India in the Indian sub-continent.

Before the British, it was the Maurya Empire (322 BC – 187 BC) who ruled over this area and they had merged parts of the Indian subcontinent together except for the southern tip where Tamils lived. This southern tip was one of their two habitats. The other habitat was in the nearby island separated by sea, marked on the map below as ‘Tamaraparani’.

A popular emperor of the Maurya dynasty was Emperor Asoka who is still remembered today for spreading Buddhism throughout South East Asia, including China and Japan.

Tamils were trading with the Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Africans, and Arabs for a long time. In ancient Tamil works of literature; spices were collectedly known then as ‘Curry’ too but later, perhaps in the second millennium, the same word started being used to refer to cooked food.

Tamils were the natives of southern tip of Indian sub-continent and the north and east of the island of Ceylon (marked here with it’s today’s name Sri Lanka).

The two natural habitats of the Tamils as of now (Kerala, the land of Cheras now speak a branched out language of Tamil, Malayalam)
(when Portuguese came, similar situation but many separate kingdoms)

Once the country of India had been established by the British in the 19th century, the Island of Ceylon became the attention of them. It was then ruled by the Dutch as two separate areas. Tamils in the North were separately ruled like that of the south of the island. British gave an ultimatum to the Dutch to leave and without any shots, the British moved in. In 1834 AD, the British brought the northern Tamil areas together with the south areas of the Sinhalese under a single administration, thereby combining the once separate regions and so like British India, British Ceylon too was established.

However, it is worth noting that 300 years before the British entered the island it was the Portuguese who colonized the area. They came with chili in the late 15th century and colonized certain Tamil islets between the island of Ceylon and the Indian peninsula. These islets belonged to the Jaffna Tamil Kingdom of the northern tip of the island of Ceylon.

The Islets. Kayts is a Dutch name and the Portuguese name was Cais. (Bottom left: Delft Island)
The ruined Portuguese Fort in the Islet of Delft: The islet was named by the Portuguese as Ilha das Vacas (“Island of the Cows”), it was renamed by the Dutch as Delft Island. The fort was constructed out of limestone and coral.

The Portuguese maintained good relationships with the Kings of Jaffna Tamil Kingdoms. However, a few decades later, after some bitter incidents, that affected this relationship, led the Portuguese seized the Jaffna Tamil Kingdom as well as killing the King in a decisive battle.

King Sangli II – the last Tamil King of Jaffna
Jaffna is known in Tamil as Yalpanam. Portuguese pronunciation could have been as Jaffna

Till this point, the Tamils in both habitats were using black pepper to spice up their curry, however, once the Portuguese introduced chili, that then replaced the black pepper very quickly and that was a watershed moment for the curry. For the next 300 years, the curry developed further by its native Tamils along with Portuguese, and then eventually the Dutch who colonized the country after the Portuguese.

New vegetables and new curries

At least 130 new vegetables and plants were brought in by the Portuguese. Apart from Chili, Potato, Tomato, Beetroot, Casava, Pumpkin, leaks, beans, cabbage to name a few were introduced. New innovative curry ideas with the chili infusion came out and also they found a way to cook curries without any spice in them and so ‘white curry’ came out.

Portuguese were replaced by the Dutch and during their time, further innovation came out and the Dutch can be linked to popular Lumprias (LumpRice in English), Rich Cakes, Sambals, unique and wonderful non-veg pickles (beef pickle, fish pickle, and prawn pickle). A popular unique dessert came out which is very popularly known as ‘Wattilappam (Wattila™)

A noteworthy fact is that these new curry development was with curry’s native: Tamils and so it is truly authentic.

Kayts Dutch fort – in the middle of the sea ( between Kayts and Karainagar: See map above)

In the meantime the Tamils in the southern tip of the Indian sub continent were never colonized by the Portuguese or by the Dutch but both had trading posts in maritime areas.

Huge Pentagon Style Dutch Fort in Jaffna, Tamil area of the North of the Island
Entrance to the Huge Dutch Fort in Jaffna

So, Indian Curry is a term used by the British who had taken the undeveloped curry of the Tamils in the southern tip to the rest of India.

However, they ruled the two nations separately even though both were only 18 miles apart by sea. It should be noted that the Andaman and Nicobar islands which were 1400 miles away from India were annexed with India and ruled from Delhi.

The fact was, like British India, the British have also established another country too and that was British Ceylon. The curry that was developed there by the Portuguese and Dutch with the native is ‘Tamil Curry‘ and nothing to do with Indian Curry.

Hence the developed curry of the Tamils of British Ceylon never came to the UK while the undeveloped curry of Tamils of British India did. More of my research and findings in my book.

Without researching this enough many authors who write about curry say that the curry was a British – Indian culinary exercise.

The Tamil Curry is already Europeanised but the curry that was introduced into the west, especially in the UK is not and so many fosters tried their hand and now about to give up. Evidence was in the term used by the British media: ‘Great British Curry Crisis’.

Let us solve it!

I was born and brought up in a village called Saravanai which is between two ancient Portuguese port cities of Cais and Leiden. Cais is now Kayts and Leiden is Velanai now (Dutch changed them: Kayts as well as Delft are the names of two towns in Holland).

Saravanai – where I born and brought up (between Kayts and Leiden (Velanai)

What I would like to bring to light are the secret recipes my family, extended family, and the villagers developed alongside the Portuguese and the Dutch which includes a top-secret recipe for a ‘Roasted Curry Thuool’™. (Tamil’s Roasted Curry Powder).

Many tried and failed on this secret recipe as they could not figure out the roasting perfection and ratio measurements of ingredients. They simply market that without roasting.

Traditional Tamil Rice and Curries cooked in earth wares in villages

In conclusion, India is a relatively new country. Hundreds of Kingdoms, Queendoms, Chiefdoms, Principality, and Sultanates were conquered and merged to carved India whereas Tamil is a language: in fact, schoolers agree that the oldest language of the world, closely followed by Chinese and Greek. Curry of the Tamils is the cultural tradition for a long, nearly 2000 years of works of Tamil literature are proving this.

However, there is a new archaeological excavation at Keelady, in the Tamil Nadu state of India, where the excavation is still progressing. What unearthed so far was taking the Tamil history back to more than 2600 years.

This place is considered to be the Pandya dynasty’s (of the prominent 3 ancient Tamil dynasties) city called “Perumanalur”, the pioneer of ancient Tamil literature. Canals and sewage systems, Ring wells and brick walls, and Pottery (The rouletted, arretine-type ceramics brought by merchants demonstrate business connections with the Roman Empire.) all have provided evidence of a highly civilized ancient Tamil community.

As of today, Tamils have two habitats: One in India and the other is in Sri Lanka. The latter was subjected to Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonization while the former was only British and that was 300 years later than that of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It should also be noted that a small enclave of the Tamils in Southern India, known as Puducherry was a French colony too.

Don’t forget to get the 3 TAMIL CURRY recipes